Unpaid carers face bleak financial future

Unpaid carers face bleak financial future paying care costs on top of tens of hours of care every week says Carers UK

New research released today by Carers UK, the leading membership charity for people caring unpaid for family and friends, shows unpaid carers are “bankrupting their future to pay for the present”.

As well as providing significant levels of care themselves, more than two thirds (68%) of carers are also using their own income or savings to cover the cost of care, equipment or products for the person they care for. As a result many are struggling financially and unable to save for their own retirement.

Unpaid Carer

A survey of over 7,500 people currently caring unpaid for family or friends, the majority of whom provide well over 50 hours of care every week, reveals the huge personal and financial cost of caring for a loved one, with two in five carers (39%) saying they are struggling to make ends meet. Those who take on caring responsibilities often struggle to juggle a job as well, with many reducing hours, turning down promotions or leaving work altogether.

The financial pressure on carers is having a knock on effect on their futures, with more than half (53%) of all carers unable to save for retirement.

Those struggling to make ends meet are the hardest hit as carers with little money to spare are forking out hundreds of pounds to cover the costs of essentials like nutritional supplements, bed pads and mobility equipment.

The vast majority (78%) of carers who report they struggle financially are paying towards the cost of care services or equipment for the person they support. For those on a low income or receiving Carer’s Allowance – the benefit for people caring for more than 35 hours a week and just £66.15 per week – it is a never ending struggle to make ends meet. Three quarters (73%) of this group are unable to save for retirement.

On top of the huge personal cost of care, crucial support is being cut with one in eight carers (12%) reporting that they or their loved one received less care or support in the previous year, as a result of reduced support from social services.

The survey findings paint a worrying picture of carers under immense financial, physical and mental strain and an underfunded social care system that is taking its toll on families.

  Helen Walker, Chief Executive of Carers UK, said:

“This is a classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul, with carers already providing high levels of support left short-changed as they use money for their retirement trying to cover the care costs of their loved one today.

“As it stands, providing unpaid care is pushing thousands of families into poverty and is having a lasting impact on their finances and quality of life.

“Our current social care system is on the brink. Families urgently need affordable, high quality care services and carers need access to regular breaks and stronger workplace rights to ensure they can combine work and care if they wish to.

“The leadership candidates cannot afford to ignore this burning issue affecting millions across the country and must commit to funding and delivering a reformed system that has families at its heart.”

Carers UK is urging the government to urgently put in place the financial and practical support that carers need, both in the short term and over the longer term, to ensure the sustainability of the health and social care system.

Source: Carers UK

Rekindling Hope in Public Services

Chris Naylor writing at The King’s Fund –  In the late 1960s the psychologist Martin Seligman made a name for himself by exploring how animals respond to the experience of powerlessness. His research involved delivering electric shocks to dogs in a series of carefully constructed experiments. He found that when the dogs had no control over what happened to them, over time they became passive and stopped trying to avoid the shock. In subsequent tests they did not attempt to stop the electricity, even when given the power to do so.

Seligman coined the term ‘learned helplessness’ to describe their condition. Seligman believed that people, too, could have their sense of agency diminished through repeated exposure to negative outcomes seemingly beyond their control. Talking to people working in public services, I have sometimes heard the term ‘professional fatalism’ used to capture a similar idea – the notion that over time, confronted by complex or chronic problems that are not amenable to a simple solution, and working in systems that are often ill-equipped to support people with these kinds of challenges, it can be hard for staff to hold onto the belief that better outcomes are possible. A parallel process can take place for the people and communities they work with, who may experience similar feelings of powerlessness.

Public Servises

In the face of this challenge, it strikes me that several of the most compelling examples of public service reform we have examined in recent research at The King’s Fund share a focus on giving frontline professionals more control over their work and cultivating positive beliefs about the capacity of staff and service users to bring about change. Take this quote from a social care professional we interviewed as part of our research in Wigan:

Now we can actually do the things we came in service to do… We really wanted to make a difference to people’s lives but couldn’t do that previously and now we can. It is people’s attitudes and behaviours that have changed.

What impressed us most in Wigan was the sense of purpose and self-belief we encountered in staff working for the local authority and other organisations. People told us that this was new, and that the change had come about as a result of senior leaders giving staff greater flexibility to work with service users in a different way to understand what kind of support would work best for them. This was part of a major transformation known as the ‘Wigan Deal’. I was left with the feeling that if the Deal has achieved one thing, it has been rekindling hope among local professionals.

This resonates with what we have seen elsewhere. For example, in our report, Outcomes for mental health services, Ben Collins describes the work of the social enterprise Navigo, which delivers a wide range of services to people living with mental health problems in north-east Lincolnshire. Like Wigan, Navigo has placed considerable emphasis on recasting the relationship between professionals and service users, removing an unhelpful sense of hierarchy, and has achieved impressive results.

Standing back from these and other examples (including our research on the Buurtzorg model of community nursing), there are several distinctive shared features that give a glimpse of what may be needed to build hope both in the caring professions and in the communities they serve. These include:

None of these can be implemented overnight, but our research shows they are achievable ambitions provided organisations have sufficiently bold leadership and an ongoing commitment to challenging engrained ways of working.

In the latter half of his career, Martin Seligman turned away from studying the origins of mental distress and became one of the founders of ‘positive psychology’, which aims to understand the conditions under which people thrive. If public services are to help bring these conditions about, leaders will first need to put power in the hands of frontline staff and the people and communities they work with. Through this shift in power we can build hope, and hope is the fuel needed for improvement.